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To the Moon (PC) artwork

To the Moon (PC) review

"Its retro graphics look beautiful. The original soundtrack is utterly stunning. Its story is one of the most confident and grown-up that our medium has ever seen. Donít approach To the Moon expecting taxing puzzles or combat or stats, because that isnít what itís about. It is its own thing: an indie adventure about going to the moon, but with its sights set far beyond it."

Johnny never really knew why he wanted to visit the moon; itís just something he felt he wished to do. Now, heís elderly and terminally ill, comatose and unable to fulfil his dream. But in this near-future world exists a technology that allows doctors to change a personís life as they perceive it, by delving into their memories and rearranging them, so that they may die believing they lived the life they desired.

To the Moon is a love story of sorts. Itís also a story of guilt, regret, friendship, grief and misunderstandings. And itís not really much of a game, its only significant problems arising when it tries too hard to be one.

To the Moon asset

Itís perhaps closest to the hidden-object genre, only the objects arenít hidden, and seeking them out serves only to progress the story. It looks like a dreamier Chrono Trigger, but youíll mainly do a lot of walking and talking, rather than fighting and levelling. There are tile-reversal puzzles and a single action sequence towards the end, but neither of them needed to be there.

You play as two doctors, Neil and Eva, who work for the Sigmund Agency - the company that arranges these memory transformations. A late-night call to a clifftop mansion sets in train a journey backwards through Johnnyís life, as the doctors search for the best moment to implant his desire to become an astronaut.

This is an incredibly, masterfully sad game. It tugs on heartstrings - not via cynical emotional manipulation, but by telling enormously confident stories about the human condition. Itís about the problems any of us may face as we move through our lives, and itís one of only a handful of games to have brought me to tears. Crucially, though, itís also at times a game of immense joy, a celebration of existence and persistence in the face of adversity. Thatís an incredibly special thing in our medium.

To the Moon asset

You could call it a romantic comedy. Itís extremely funny in places, and it certainly hinges around Johnnyís troubled but adoring relationship with his wife, River, who died two years before Johnny became ill. But it settles for none of the clichťs you might associate with the genre. Instead, it derives all of its poignancy and humour from the astonishing candidness and unremarkableness of the topics it breezes through.

This is a game that takes on subject matters unheard of in gaming. Terminal illness, mental health, and genuine corporate moral grey areas that make most gamesí attempts seem trivially black-and-white. And it refuses to ram them down your throat. Instead it positions them within an absurdly well-crafted world that simply exists, for better or for worse, just as is the case in real life.

To the Moon tells its story mainly in reverse, which allows its opening mysteries to slowly piece together as the gameís four or five hours progress. At the beginning, names get dropped and situations are referenced, but neither you nor your player characters can make sense of them. You accompany the doctors on a journey of discovery as they work to understand their client: what made him happy? What made him sad? What made him human? And what made him want to go to the moon?

Itís phenomenally well-written. Neil and Eva banter as would lifelong friends, picking at each otherís flaws, teasing one another relentlessly, but clearly both caring a great deal about their colleague. Theyíre silly and playful, and while aware of the gravity of their role, they still treat it as a job, the thing they do for a living, not some life-changing event that will shape the rest of their days. The contrast works remarkably, because the story theyíre unraveling is about precisely that: pinpointing the moments in a personís life that changed them.

To the Moon asset

I could talk about the story all day - all its intricacies, all its clever subversion of what you expect it to do, all its unlikely beauty in gorgeous pixel-art cut-scenes and unfathomably expressive character sprites. I wish I could talk about three pivotal moments - sections where youíre hit with the dawning realisation of what it all means - because each of them left me speechless. But obviously I canít. Maybe later, when youíve all played it.

And you really, really should, providing youíre prepared for something a little different. To the Moon isnít a traditional game, and itís a shame it ever tried to be. The tile-reversal puzzles are an unfriendly distraction from the plot, and the action sequence is so misplaced as to be painful. But itís only painful because almost everything else here is so immaculately, meticulously crafted, not a minute or a pixel wasted, not a single step out of place.

Its retro graphics look beautiful. The original soundtrack is utterly stunning. Its story is one of the most confident and grown-up that our medium has ever seen. Donít approach To the Moon expecting taxing puzzles or combat or stats, because that isnít what itís about. It is its own thing: an indie adventure about going to the moon, but with its sights set far beyond it.

Rating: 9/10

Lewis's avatar
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (March 01, 2012)

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zippdementia posted March 01, 2012:

Great, powerful, review, OD. It's hard to go wrong with good material, but it takes a masterful writer to truly bring that material to life on the page. Only available for PC???
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EmP posted March 01, 2012:

Lewis, Zipp. Not OD. Lewis is a third of the age and a forth of the height.

Good stuffs, regardless.
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jerec posted March 01, 2012:

Been wanting to play this game for some time, but the high cost for such a short game deters me. I will eventually, I suppose.
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zippdementia posted March 02, 2012:

Aren't they both British, though? That should count for something.
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zippdementia posted March 02, 2012:

Really, this is such a Lewis review, I can't believe I said OD.
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wolfqueen001 posted March 02, 2012:

OD's very much American.
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espiga posted March 02, 2012:

Last I heard, Ohio was annexed by the English.
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zippdementia posted March 02, 2012:

Overdrive is American? My whole world just turned sideways.
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Lewis posted March 02, 2012:

Thanks for reading, you lovelies.

PC-only, yeah. But it'll run on extremely modest machines. Heck, I'm pretty sure it would run on my netbook.

As for the price, well, it's under £10. So £2 an hour of entertainment, if you want to judge it like that. You can pay £50 for a bland singleplayer shooter that lasts ten hours. £10 for five hours of magic seems perfectly decent to me.
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Suskie posted March 02, 2012:

Great, powerful, review, OD.

There, was, probably, a, character, in, Chrono, Cross, who, talked, like, this.
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jerec posted March 02, 2012:

Someone who used too many commas and called people by the wrong name?
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Lewis posted March 02, 2012:

Also: Crikey, OD is 70 years old and 6.72 metres tall?!
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zippdementia posted March 02, 2012:

Hey, my commas were placed absolutely correctly according to the Chicago Manual of Style. Which is almost as ponderous as Chrono Cross' plot. And, Lewis, it's not about how old it is, but how you use it.

Speaking of which, I'm pretty sure OD hasn't seen any of these comments because he's just looking at the forum going "pfft... a bunch of people commenting on Lewis' review."
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Suskie posted March 02, 2012:

If it's any consolation, Lewis, you once got credit for one of my reviews. Now I need to get credit for one of OD's and we've come full circle.
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honestgamer posted March 02, 2012:

Notice who praised the wrong critic in both cases. Zipp is just trying to spread the love. Nothing wrong with that!

Oh, as for actual comments on the review, however vague: I was glad to be able to post this review. I'd been wondering about the game, and Lewis was a perfect choice to cover it (as you can see from the text). To the Moon is, as you might say, in his wheelhouse.
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zippdementia posted March 02, 2012:

It will never happen, Suskie. Probably.
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overdrive posted March 03, 2012:

I just noticed these comments and like them. Any time I'm praised, even if for the work of other people that I had nothing to do with, I am happy.

HonestGamers: It's all about Rob.
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jerec posted September 15, 2012:

Finally got around to playing and finishing this. I'm not ashamed to say I cried.
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zippdementia posted September 15, 2012:

I still think about this game, even though the only thing I have to inform me is OD-- er, Lewis' review.

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